Saturday, August 14, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite
Review by Sombrero Grande

Do you realize how fortunate we are to have not just one but TWO absolutely stellar comedies in theaters this summer? Perhaps I’m just used to big, hyped, Hollywood comedies where all the good jokes are in the trailers and audiences waste two hours at a time to laugh, if they’re lucky, thrice. So that’s why I feel very lucky to have both Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Napoleon Dynamite currently showing in my neighborhood multiplex.

If you haven’t listened to Mil Peliculas’ audio review of Napoleon Dynamite yet, you should. He makes a lot of good points and observations in his praising the film. I’ll make my review short so that I don’t end up repeating anything you can already hear his melodious voice discuss.

I can’t decide which is funnier, Anchorman or Napoleon Dynamite. I laughed pretty much constantly through both, but watching Napoleon I actually began crying I was laughing so hard. See what I mean about being lucky this summer? Napoleon Dynamite is definitely a smarter film, aimed more at a high-brow art house audience than Anchorman, and it seems to be aptly garnering the same amazing amount of deserved, widespread attention. Napoleon Dynamite is an absolutely hilarious movie, and word is spreading. You probably don’t even need to read this review; you’ve no doubt already heard from friends, co-workers, acquaintances, strangers on the bus, etc., that this is a movie well-worth a look-see.

I doubt you’ll have an easy time finding an ensemble of characters that are more unique and interesting than those in Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon himself is alternately the most pathetic and coolest nerd I’ve ever encountered, cinematically or otherwise. You could imagine what a nerd’s home life might be like, but only writers Jared and Jerusha Hess could possibly concoct the downright ludicrous world that is Napoleon’s.

Perhaps the closest thing to a “star” in this film is Diedrich Bader, the next-door neighbor from Office Space and The Drew Carey Show, who plays an almost cameo part as a ludicrous dojo instructor. After some ‘net searchin’ I realized that the girl who played Deb had played the little girl in Waterworld, and Napoleon’s friend Pedro I could have sworn sounded exactly like the foreign kid from That ‘70s Show, but it’s not him. Pretty much the entire cast is unknowns--and they couldn’t have been cast better. I’d love to see Jon Heder, the guy who plays Napoleon, nominated for an Oscar. He and the rest of the cast played every line, every movement absolutely perfectly.

The humor in Napoleon Dynamite is delivered so deliciously deadpan that it makes Bob Newhart’s shtick look like Jim Carrey’s. Normally, screenwriting instructors demand writers stay away from writing static, dialogue-heavy “diner scenes.” Not only does Napoleon Dynamite have several diner scenes, but it has several scenes where the characters simply stand still in front of school lockers and talk nearly motionless. What makes these talking heads scenes work is the quality of the performances delivering the smart dialogue. It reminded me of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The animation was rather atrocious, but the writing was so smart and funny that it didn’t matter. I didn’t care for one second that Napoleon and Pedro were merely talking heads in some scenes; I was impressed that they managed to still be interesting and oftentimes hilarious.

So what are you waiting for? Dang! Get off the Internet, stuff some Tater Tots in your pocket and go see Napoleon Dynamite! Gosh!


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